Rare Toothless Dinosaur Identified As Tyrannosaurus Rex And Velociraptor Relative
A fossil unearthed by a volunteer digger in Australia has been identified as a rare, toothless dinosaur known as an Elaphrosaur.
The Elaphrosaur – which means ‘light-footed lizard’ – roamed the country 110 million years ago and was related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.
This is the first record of Elaphrosaurinae from Australia and is one of only two Cretaceous elaphrosaurs ever found worldwide.
The five-centimetre vertebrae fossil was discovered by volunteer Jessica Parker during a dig led by Melbourne Museum, which took place at a fossil site known as Eric the Red West near Cape Otway in Victoria in 2015.
The bone was initially believed to be from a flying reptile called a pterosaur, but when palaeontologists at Swinburne University in Melbourne studied it further, they struggled to work out exactly what type of pterosaur it was.
PhD candidate Adele Pentland said that pterosaur neck vertebrae are ‘very distinctive’, with the body of the vertebra having a socket at the head end and a ball or condyle at the body end. ‘This vertebra had sockets at both ends, so it could not have been from a pterosaur,’ she explained.
After extensive research, Pentland and fellow palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat realised the fossil wasn’t from a pterosaur at all, but a rare type of dinosaur.
Dr Poropat explained:
We soon realised that the neck bone we were studying was from a theropod: a meat-eating dinosaur, related to Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, and modern birds. The only catch – this ‘meat-eating dinosaur’ probably didn’t eat meat!
Whereas most of the fossil’s known relatives – like Elaphrosaurus from Tanzania, and Limusaurus from China – lived towards the end of the Jurassic Period, around 160-145 million years ago, this new Victorian Elaphrosaur dates to almost 40 million years later, from the Early Cretaceous Period.
The research was published earlier this month in the journal Gondwana Research, and noted that this particular Elaphrosaur was quite small – at around two metres long, it would have been a lot smaller than its Jurassic counterparts.
Dr Poropat continued:
Elaphrosaurs had long necks, stumpy arms with small hands, and relatively lightly built bodies. As dinosaurs go, they were rather bizarre.
The few known skulls of elaphrosaurs show that the youngsters had teeth, but that the adults lost their teeth and replaced them with a horny beak.
We don’t know if this is true for the Victorian elaphrosaur yet — but we might find out if we ever discover a skull.
Proposed digs at the Eric the Red West site have been postponed twice this year because of the bushfire season and the current global health crisis, with palaeontologists hoping to return safely to discover even more fossils soon.
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